Last week Rwandans had yet another one of the most coveted national forums, Umushyikirano (National Dialogue).
A lot was tabled and many achievements were unearthed from different angles; foundation for National Prosperity and safeguarding these achievements for a better future.
One of the issues that came up was the concern about keeping archives not just the ones derived from the Gacaca proceedings but also those from the Arusha based UN tribunal, ICTR whose mandate ends with the end of next year.
As we all know, archives are the documentary by-product of human activity retained for their long-term value. They are indeed witnesses to the past and they provide evidence explanation and justification both for past actions and current decisions.
Archives are indeed unique, contemporaneous records and so once lost cannot be replaced. It is only through proper identification, care and wide access that the vital role that archives has can be fully realised to the best of humanity.
A meeting held in Arusha in August 2008, organised by the East African Law Society, brought out arguments that suggested that the archives should remain housed in the ICTR Headquarters in Arusha after the tribunal winds up.
The truth of the matter is that the archives must be taken where they belong—Rwanda. The materials, case files, video cassettes, transcripts, confidential records—name it, are invaluable assets for a country that must keep the memory of what transpired at its greatest hour of need.
While the international community has attempted to play its part in contributing to the trials of the infamous perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the truth of the matter is that it is the Rwandan people in whose interest it is to take full custody of the archives.
In the first instance, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda should have been established in Rwanda for different reasons, including the principle of territoriality under international law under which a sovereign state can prosecute criminal offences that are committed within its borders.
One of the reasons advanced in 1994 by powerful forces within the international system was that it would be better to establish the Court out of Rwanda to avoid a situation of a victor’s justice. And so the Court was conveniently located to Arusha in Tanzania and the rest as they say is history.
Let us put it rather bluntly. History belongs to its owners. The Rwandan history is about Rwanda and less about the international community’s misdeeds.
As we celebrate Christmas, we cannot forget at any one time that Jews disowned Jesus as their Messiah, it does not discount the fact that pilgrims go to Israel every often to visit the historical birthplace of Jesus-- Bethlehem.
In the same vein, people would like to see Genocide sites, victims’ records and a lot of other artifacts associated with the gruesome events of 1994 that happened inside Rwanda.
It is neither a favour nor a gift for the archives to be transferred to Rwanda. It is a right for the Rwandan people to have their own history.
It is not uncommon to hear people commenting that archives are a waste of time, money and resources.
Some go to the extent of saying that since we live in the present and plan for the future why dwell in the past?
Rwanda’s remarkable transformation over the last two decades should be testimony that the Rwandan people can take charge of their destiny as it has been demonstrated time and again.
There should never be a disconnect of a people’s history of what happened and where it is purported to have taken place. If you want to see the pharaohs in their mummified forms, you have to visit their museums in Cairo.
The moral of the story is that the past is there and will always belong to where it belongs and nobody can change this state of affairs.
And as one of twentieth century’s greatest poets, T.S Eliot said, “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future. And time future contained in time past”.
Happy New Year.
The writer is a consultant and visiting lecturer at the RDF Senior Command and Staff College, Nyakinama.